In early May, a 19-year-old girl named Noura Hussein was sentenced to death by a court in Sudan. The verdict came after Hussein killed her husband, whom she was forced to marry at 15 and who allegedly raped her.
When Hussein’s parents originally tried to force this marriage, the teen ran away for three years. In April 2017, she was ultimately forced to marry Abdel Rahman Hammad. Hussein is hardly the only Sudanese teen whose parents forced her to marry as a teenager. In fact, Sudanese parents are allowed to arrange the marriage of their daughter, with the permission of a judge, once she hits puberty at 10 years old. According to a 2010 Sudanese household survey, 37.6 percent of all married Sudanese women were married before 18. Additionally, 5.2 percent (in the Northern State) and 19.1 percent (in the Blue Nile State), had been married before they turned 15.
After Hussein was forcibly married, the courageous young woman resisted and refused to consummate her marriage with a man whom she didn’t choose and who was a complete stranger to her. Abdel Rahman Hammad then reportedly called his brother and two cousins to help him restrain his own wife while he raped her. In fact, marital rape is legal in Sudan. Hammad allegedly tried to rape his wife again the next day, but she managed to grab a knife and stab her husband to death.
At this point, Hussein went to her family’s home, where her father then turned her into the police himself. The police, she says, threatened her when she admitted to killing her husband — but also recounted being forcibly married and raped.
In late May, Hussein’s legal team appealed the death sentence, although they have also faced weeks of intensifying intimidation by the Sudanese government. Hussein’s case is a concrete, extreme example of the injustice many girls suffer in patriarchal societies in which women and girls are considered objects to entertain and fulfill men’s needs. Women’s bodies legally belong to men in these societies, and, as such, girls are taught from a young age, that their fate is in men’s hands and that they must always obey them. The cycle continues because, due to marrying so young, girls drop out of school and are all the more easily controlled by men. Hussein’s case is a highly public example of this reality and, therefore, threatening to the Sudanese government.
So why exactly has Noura Hussein been sentenced to death? For defending herself? For refusing to have sex with a man whom she not only didn’t choose to be with but actively resisted? For understanding that her body is her own? For having the courage to defy a patriarchal society?
These are some of the questions activists have been asking on social media under the hashtags #JusticeForNoura and #SaveNoura. Thousands of people around the world have shared a change.org petition supporting this goal and shared words and pictures expressing their indignity of this unjust sentence. Last Sunday, UN Women, in conjunction with UNFPA and the U.N. Office of the Special Adviser on Africa, made a statement to appeal for clemency for Noura Hussein. “Speaking as the voices of women and girls of the world,” they stated, “we plead with the government of Sudan to save the life of Hussein and to protect the lives of all women and girls.” Amnesty International also urged people all over the world to take action and save Noura’s life.
Noura Hussein’s case may be one of countless cases of marital rape and subsequent violence in Sudan, let alone the world. Many Muslim African women in particular suffer this kind of injustice and violence. But Hussein is doing a huge service to all of them by standing up for justice. Hopefully doing so will inspire others to as well, and in turn garner the support of the international community to demand women everywhere have the fundamental rights to freedom of choice and consent.
More articles by Category: Gender-based violence, International, Violence against women
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